Almost Killed by a Fashion Doll

It started at one of Molly's friend's birthday party. Lying wrapped up in the stack of presents was a secret gift from the grandmother. Before the parents could do anything about it BARBIE had emerged. Molly's eyes were wide as she struggled to get a turn holding this new doll and changing her clothes. I felt a sense of impending doom. 

On the ride home from the party Molly popped the question. "Can I get a BARBIE for my birthday?" I tried to explain: "Well you see Molly, BARBIE's body is not shaped like regular people's bodies. It's shaped like how some people think women are supposed to look. And if people grow up thinking they are supposed to look like BARBIE they won't feel proud of the way they do look." Molly didn't nod. I could tell she didn't have the slightest idea what I was talking about. 

As her birthday approached she repeated her question with increasing frequency. None of my responses had any effect. Finally, my wife Sue and I decided that we can't protect her from everything, and off we went in search of BARBIE. As we entered Toys R Us I was immediately overwhelmed at the size. Sue began studying the store directory. My brain sort of fogged over. There was a swing set display in front of me. Was I supposed to buy the $199 one with the five foot slide or the really spiffy one with the 7.5 foot slide for $499. "How good a dad am I?" I started to wonder. 

Sue tugged on my arm, which felt limp. BARBIE was not hard to find. More than half the doll section at Toys R Us is her exclusive showcase. I walked down several aisles of BARBIE wearing this and BARBIE wearing that. I thought of how much Molly might spend on clothes as a teenager. My ears started to buzz and I felt a little dizzy. "Sue," I said, "maybe there is a dress up doll that is not BARBIE." We looked at the alternatives. There was one row of dolls that all looked like prostitutes. Little girls were supposed to dress these dolls up. Why was I fantasizing about undressing them? Then there were the Disney dolls. A chance to be the pawn of both the movie and retail industries at the same time. 

I staggered back to BARBIE, a headache building rapidly. "It's not just her body and her clothes," I said to Sue, "It's her whole lifestyle. BARBIE's favorite pastime is shopping. And flirting with ultraviolet overexposed bodybuilders who must work double shifts to afford their sports cars. Does BARBIE ever question authority? Does BARBIE think for herself? Will BARBIE help Molly think for herself?" 

I could feel my pulse pounding in my head and my stomach ache was so tight I was leaning forward. Sue said I looked very pale. She brought me SKIPPER. SKIPPER is better than BARBIE she said because SKIPPER has flat feet and won't develop low back pain from always wearing high heels. Also, SKIPPER is more politically correct because she is black. "Great," I thought, "Soon every girl in the world will be playing with the same set of dolls and learning the same set of values, defined by our captains of industry."

That's all I remember. Sue said my eyes rolled back and my legs just gave out. Luckily she was standing right there and caught me. She carried me out to the car. When I came to I was lying in the grass at a nearby park. At first I just heard the wind in the trees above me. Then I felt Sue holding my hand and placing a wet cloth on my forehead. "It's okay," she was saying, "we don't have to buy a BARBIE." I repeated her words slowly to myself, "We don't have to buy a BARBIE." Sue said she had bought some clay and we could make our own dolls. "But I don't know how to make a doll, I whined. "We'll learn," she said. "We'll all learn together."

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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